THE DEVELOPMENT OF PLASTIC ARCHITECTURE
quantities. One exception was the so-called “Polyvilla”, a rectangular hybrid con-
1.4 The “Monsanto House of the Future”, R. Hamilton, M. Goody, A. Dietz, 1957, was the first plastic house to be conceived for mass production. 1.5 International Plastic Housing Exhibition, IKA Lüdenscheid, Germany, 1971. Left “Futuro” (M. Suuronen, Y. Ronkka), foreground “Bulle Six Coques” (J. B. Maneval, Y. Magnant), right “Rondo” (Casoni & Casoni, R. Walther).
struction made of lightweight concrete and plastic with a traditional form, which was built over 500 times within a period of ten years. In the concluding chapter, the
report predicted a future for the industrial mass production of plastic houses but recognised that the resulting standardisation would be problematic for marketing them as private houses.
The plastic houses that were realised proved that plastics were fundamentally suitable for use in architecture and that in terms of structural stability, thermal performance and durability, they could be used in place of conventional materials. Their use was restricted primarily to single-storey buildings. Beside the production of entire buildings that were delivered as prefabricated products equipped with integrated fittings, further applications included individual components made 1.6
of plastic, for example sandwich panel façade elements, prefabricated sanitary cells and roofing elements. The experimental test structures from this period addressed many key considerations and together made a significant contribution to the future of plastic architecture. The structural potential and technical performance of fibre-reinforced plastics was of particular use for wide-span roof structures. A series of engineers devel-
ponents but only rarely and in special circumstances were entire buildings realised in plastic. In recent years, plastics have begun to experience a renaissance in the field of
oped outstanding concepts for high-performance structures. One example is the
architecture and construction. In addition to building elements and components
“Les échanges” Pavilion by the Swiss engineer Heinz Hossdorf presented at the
for technical and constructional installations, for example piping and insulation,
Expo 1964 in Lausanne, a pre-stressed construction consisting of a grid of multi-
plastics are increasingly being used as high-performance materials for supporting
ple umbrella-like elements made of 3 mm thick GRP sections. The modular shell
structures and building skins. A distinction is drawn here between loadbearing and
constructions by the French engineer Stéphane du Château are a further example
non-loadbearing building elements. Non-loadbearing applications are, for exam-
of wide-span GRP structures. The segmented dome shell of the market hall roof in
ple, interior fittings and façade cladding in particular. Where sufficient quantities
Argenteuil, made of 30 prefabricated 6 mm thick GRP shell elements on an under-
are required, it is possible to manufacture extremely complex, geometric preci-
lying lightweight steel construction, spanned a diameter of 30 m.
sion elements using highly automated techniques. The use of plastics for building
The pioneering buildings of the 1950s to 1970s did not, however, lead to the
skins depends on the thermal and physical characteristics required. For loadbear-
widespread adoption of housing made of plastic. By 1973, not a single one of the
ing structures, fibre-reinforced plastics are still the most commonly used option.
purely plastic houses had been mass-produced. The great expectations that the
Application areas include supporting structures for buildings as well as industrial
designers and industry had placed in the new material remained unfulfilled and
architecture and engineering structures.
the envisaged demand failed to materialise. The reasons for this are manifold: for example, the oil crisis in the 1970s led to a considerable rise in the price of plastics.
Special building elements with complex geometries are another area where plastics are appropriate. While the manufacture of moulds for such materials usu-
However, the interruption in the development of plastic architecture cannot solely
ally requires a high degree of manual skilled labour at a corresponding cost, plas-
be attributed to the oil crisis. Although the forms were appropriate to the material,
tics make it possible to produce highly differentiated building elements in large
their unconventional looks and living concepts were not embraced by the public.
quantities at exacting tolerances. This is particularly relevant for modular systems.
Very few clients were willing to realise the dream of their own home in the form of
The low self-weight of the material is a particular advantage in terms of transpor-
an industrially mass-produced plastic house, particularly as they were not much
tation. The comparatively high investment required for fabrication is compensated
cheaper than a conventional house. The low level of demand in turn inhibited their
for by the ability to produce large quantities. In addition, plastics have long played
mass production, which would have led to a reduction in costs and greater eco-
an important role in construction maintenance, most notably carbon fibre-rein-
nomic competitiveness compared with conventional prefabricated houses.
forced plastics for the repair and strengthening of concrete structures.
A further problem that ultimately led to the premature cessation of develop-
Surprisingly, plastics are all too often regarded as a lower-quality substitute
ment activities was the difficulty of obtaining building control approval: several
material when, in fact, the reverse is true: plastics are high-tech products. An ade-
prototypes exhibited physical defects (mould etc.) and poor fire safety charac-
quate appreciation of plastics is, however, essential in order to best exploit their
teristics. Nevertheless, a series of different plastic buildings, such as the “Futuro”
diverse, excellent properties and for the emergence of innovative plastic architec-
or the “fg 2000” have become milestones in the history of modern architecture.
ture. Of vital importance too is the search for forms of construction that are appro-
After this period, plastics were still used in a variety of ways for individual com-
priate to the material. In this respect there is still much room for development.
Published on Oct 1, 2010
Published on Oct 1, 2010
This book seeks to fill that gap by providing an introduction to the structural and design possibilities of plastic. It introduces the mater...